Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 03/11/09

Welcome to another edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews. Lots of interesting happenings this week. Biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed Action Comics #875. Hadn't expected to enjoy the adventures of Flamebird and Nightwing, but Rucka has made me a believer. Best this week was probably Green Lantern Corps, which also had my Moment of the Week, namely the fight between Arkillo and Mongul. All in all, very solid showing all around with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a huge disappointment for me this month.

Before I let you go, make sure to check back tomorrow for the start of a new column, Trade Waiting. It's a trade review column that Eric will be heading up and he'll be covering Jonathan Hickman's The Nightly News in tomorrows review.

Hit the jump for this week's reviews!

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Eddy Barrows and Ruy José

Okay, colour me impressed. This was easily a book and event I was ready to skip not two weeks ago, but, after giving World of New Krypton a shot last week, I decided to test the waters with Action Comics this time around and Rucka did not disappoint. If you don't wish to be spoiled about the identities of Flamebird and Nightwing, I suggest you move along to the next review as I'll be discussing them and their implications throughout the review.

With little bit of spoiler warning out of the way, I'll get right to the big reveal of who Flamebird and Nightwing are. Flamebird is one Thara Ak-Var, Supergirl's friend, chief of security for Kandor and the person I had actually pegged as the new Superwoman. If you're still drawing a blank, she used to have short, black hair compared to her longer, brown hair when she has her mask off in this issue.

As for Nightwing, that's Dick Grayson. Oh, sorry, force of habit. Nightwing is actually one Lor-Zod, better known as Superman's adopted son, Christopher Kent. Yeahbuwha-, you say? Well, by issue's end, we're told that Thara had been hearing Chris' cries for help from the Phantom Zone and helped free him. We also learn that Chris is experience unexplained 'growth spurts', which are forcing him to age. It was hinted it may be due to his time in the Phantom Zone, which is probably related to his birth in that time bubble Zod and Ursa used to conceive and age him.

With the two big reveals out of the way, we can finally discuss just what the heck this storyline will be about. It seems that Chris has filled Thara in on just what kind of trouble Zod and his crew have been up to prior to Kandor's return and also reveals the existence of some Kryptonian spies planted in key locations around Earth by his father, Zod. These plants were the series of names Rucka and co rhymed off at the recent conventions, namely (details of who they were was not in the actual issue. Just adding that for those curious):
  • Tor-An - Nightwing and Flamebird captured this issue
  • Jax-Ur - a rocket & missile engineer who accidentally destroyed one of Krypton's two moons and a populated moon of millions and the only criminal ever sentenced to spend all existence within the Phantom Zone, without the possibility of any kind of parole and is considered Krypton’s worst criminal.
  • Nadira (last name obscured) - a petty criminal with telekinetic powers (oh the conversations she and Superboy would have had)
  • Az-Rel - was a partner with Nadira and is a pyrokinetic
  • Quex-Ul - the only innocent person ever sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Quex-Ul was put in the Phantom Zone for killing a herd of the sacred Rondors. Rondor horns had healing properties and were therefore sacred to Kryptonians. Quex-Ul was caught at the scene of the crime and was convicted and sentenced to 25 Sun Cycles in the Phantom Zone. Superman proved his innocence and released him and Quex-Ul in turn saved Superman from exposure to Gold Kryptonite. However, this information is obviously from the Silver Age and most likely his freedom will be ignored.
  • Car-Vex - I actually know nothing about this Kryptonian. I imagine it's a new character created for this storyline.
After learning about the identities of Flamebird and Nightwing and what they are doing on Earth, we were treated to the conflict set up for coming issues, mainly Zod sending Ursa to retreive their son, Chris. The issue ended with her tracking them both down at Superman's Fortress of Solitude and I imagine we'll be seeing some Kryptonian cat fighting next issue.

Verdict - Must Read. While I found the reveal for the 'magically aging' Chris Kent to be a tad off putting, everything else about this issue and the plot Rucka has set up for future issues was more than enough for me to give this a Must Read rating.

Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea

I've been reading Batman comics for a good 10-15 years. I feel like I've seen a lot of different stories from various creative teams over the years, some new, some recycled, but most fairly decent.

The most common story that seems to come up is the missing-Batman or gang war stories. It's an easy way to instigate conflict and pretty hard to mess up. In the case of Battle for the Cowl, Tony Daniel recycles both of these plotpoints in the aftermath of Batman's "death" post-Final Crisis / Batman RIP and does an okay job with the basic plot. Like I said, it's hard to screw it up when you have so many examples of it in action, such as Knightfall, No Man's Land and even the most recent instance, War Games.

However, while the premise is sound and the basic plot points Daniel sets out to hit are fine, the actual characterization for the myriad cast of characters is amateur (queue Christian Bale Terminator set rant) at best. It's as if Daniel is living in his own bubble and hasn't been paying attention to any other Batman related titles over the past few months.

As Tony Daniel is headlining this minievent, the blame for the miscommunications, even if they were due to editorial mistakes, falls on his shoulders and there's no excuse for so many inconsistencies in simple things, such as Nightwing being the closed off and distant one here while Robin is the one reaching out and accepting Bruce's "death" when both were shown to have the exact opposite representations in both their titles as recently as their final issues. We even have the Birds of Prey, along with Oracle, operating in this issue when Oracle disbanded the group at the end of their series. While the Birds may have stuck together, what the heck is Oracle doing there and giving them orders when we're told the story picks up in the Oracle: The Cure mini?

Continuing with the trend, we have a Damian Wayne featured in this issue that is nothing like the one Morrison wrote. Damian is not the spoiled, petulant brat that was infatuated with his father and the Batman legacy nor is he the same kid that was leading the League of Assassins and defeated Tim Drake with ease. In fact, in this issue, he's featured as some teenager picking up what looked like a hooker for a joyride in the Batmobile before nearly wetting his pants as Croc and Poison Ivy attack him and, later, hiding in a corner while Nightwing gives himself up to the villains chasing the two of them. Was Daniel even reading any of the scripts he was given to draw over the past year?

Finally, all of the villains come off as flat, cardboard representations of their usually outlandish selves. These are merely the Batman rogues gallery in name and appearance only. There isn't a single sign of personality from any of them, even the new (there's no way he's back from the dead after what happened in Catwoman) Black Mask, who is as generic as they come.

However, I would be remiss to discuss any of the good points of the issue. As I said earlier, Daniel does hit the normal high points a Batman story of this type strives for. We have the big break out of the villains, which has story telling promise, if a tad lacking in character writing.

Then, we have the rather entertaining scenes of 'the Network', which is basically the Batman extended family, such as the Birds of Prey, Alfred, Nightwing and so on, along with some outsider friends, like Knight and Squire, among others. It was enjoyable watching them work together in a vain attempt at controlling an uncontrollable situation.

Next up is the new Batman imposter, who turns out to be the gun totting version seen on some covers. As solicits have already spoiled it, I'll point out that this is actually Jason Todd. However, I actually think the imposter Tim was looking for in the underground complex was a different Batman than the Jason Todd version that showed up at the end of the issue, but we'll probably find out if there is a second fake out there or not in the next issue.

Finally, the artwork from Daniel is probably the best he's done on the Bat titles, especially his work on faces and non-costumed characters. I imagine the break since Batman: RIP has given him more time to focus on this and that probably explains the increased quality.

Verdict - Check It. While I wasn't exactly thrilled with the characterization, the story does have promise and, as it's only three issues long, I'm going to stick with it for the duration.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Leonard Kirk

Captain Britain and MI13 continues to be one of the best books on the stands from Marvel. If you were late jumping on acclaimed runs from years past, such as Captain America or Immortal Iron Fist, do yourself a favour and grab the first trade of this book and get yourself caught up because this is the same deal and people will be talking about this title in the next few years when recommendation lists make their rounds.

Cornell wastes no time continuing with the Dracula storyline setup last issue. All of the cliffhangers we were left with were picked up with at the onset of this issue. While everyone survives these attacks, how our heroes get out of each was quite interesting.

The attack on Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom actually succeeded in going off, as was shown last issue, but was not enough to kill either character. However, Captain Britain broke up the spell halfway through, preventing a full on explosion. Cap's date didn't seem to fair too well, though, and the innocent civilians who happened to be passing by were also left littering the streets in pieces, literally.

Switching gears to the now free falling Faiza, who's codename was revealed as Excalibur this issue, and Black Knight, I was a little disappointed with the magic deus ex save for each of them as Faiza uses her healing powers to heal through their injuries as they slam into the ground without a parachute. It just sets a prescedent for some easy 'get out of jail free' cards with a character that can allow them to survive just about any situation. However, the writing of the scene did help make the moment more believable and it's just a small hang up on that one detail at this point.

Finally, Faiza's family were attacked by Dracula and her father was kidnapped, most likely as a tool to use against the holy sword wielding, Faiza. Dracula left a declaration of war, written in blood, of course, for Blade, the only person he chose not to attack in this opening salvo.

What was great about the follow up scene to the carnage was the fact the team acted like the government agency and trained group they are. They didn't just puff up their chests, stomp their feet and rush off to fight the bad guys like other team books. They rallied together, called a meeting with other government agencies and discussed their options while weeding out any traitors for this obvious setup. This didn't mean they ignored what happened or didn't express any emotions beause they definitely did, but that doesn't mean they have to be stupid either. Just a great and refreshing reaction to what happened and just one thing that makes this book great.

Finally, Spitfire, who went chasing after her brother, who's been turned into a vampire, last issue is shown being led to Dracula. Her brother had been attempting to get her to join them willingly while they walked, but, in the end, Spitfire outright refused him before being led into the waiting Dracula. Dracula, being the lord of vampires, used his will to subjucate Spitfire and force her to join him. I'm not sure on the exact powers of Dracula in the Marvel Universe, so I'm not sure how binding this servitude is, but I imagine she'll be freed by her new boyfriend, Blade, at some point during this arc.

Verdict - Must Read. Great follow up to Dracula's sneak attacks last issue make up the bulk of this issue. Add quality character moments and solid artwork and it's a Must Read all the way.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Pat Gleason and Rebecca Buchman

While I was slightly disappointed last month when Tomasi had opted to push the Mongul vs Arkillo fight off until this month's issue, the wait was definitely worth it.

This fight was an epic clash of the titans that say both combatants left bloodied and hurting before ending in a very Nova vs Annihilus-like manner as Mongul ripped out Arkillo's tongue.

While the entire issue wasn't devoted to this fight, I thought it was the perfect length and if Tomasi had attempted to draw it out any further, he would have diluted the effort of each character and, in the end, downplayed the brutality of the fight. Was glad to see Arkillo wasn't killed off either. However, if he keeps losing body parts at the end of each fight (he lost a finger to Kilowog in their last meeting), he's going to be pretty hard up come Blackest Night.

The rest of the issue weaved through several plotpoints, most related to future storylines or the current troubles on Daxam. Sodam Yat's reunion with his mother made for some interesting reading as he verbally abuses her and practically forces her to beg for help, all the while mocking the rascist and xenophobic Daxam's plight, even going so far as to claim they deserved what they got after what they had done to him and the countless aliens they murdered to keep Daxam 'clean and pure'.

Continuing with Kyle and Natu's budding relationship, we saw more on Kyle's painting project from last issue and I enjoyed the discussions about the law forbidding their love and what they'd do about it if they get caught. However, with Kyle's track record for girlfriends ending up dead (usually stuffed in fridges, too), I'm not sure if I want one of my favourite non-Earth based Green Lantern being his girlfriend...

Another interesting subplot dealt with Scar and her machinations. Seems she's become more more overt and went so far as to engineer the release of a recently captured Red Lantern, who was freed of his restraints and let loose in the Sciencell area. I wonder if he'll simply kill a few Green Lanterns and escape or if he's going to cause a huge riot and the escape of the numerous Sinestro Corps members?

Finally, Guy Gardner had the line of the week as he makes light of the number of different coloured corps showing up lately, going so far as to claim it was like "Walt Disney threw up" in reference to the newest Blue Lantern corps and possibility of more to come.

Verdict - Must Read. This was worth it for the Arkillo vs Mongul fight alone. Add all the delicious subplots and Blackest Night related goodies and it's hard to go wrong with this book.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Wesley Craig

Ugh, there were so many things wrong with this issue, I don't know where to begin.

The most obvious place to start has to be the ridiculous amount of exposition. There are literally panels where the main characters of this issue, Drax and Quasar, are barely visible between the gaps of the seven or eight speech bubbles.

This wouldn't be so bad if the topic at hand was actually relevant to the readers, but I've never seen so much said about nothing before. We've got Drax spending a page or two on some existential nonsense about the concepts of Death and Limbo that immediately gets thrown out the window when they introduce the villain of the piece, Maelstrom, who explains the place our heroes ended up has nothing to do with any of that.

From there, it just goes downhill as we have to spend page after page, each littered with speech bubbles, basically recapping who the hell Maelstrom is and the history he has with Drax, all of which seems irrelevant to the actual story and could have been glossed over in favour of some more interesting dialogue.

After the exposition overload, the next biggest fualt in this issue comes in the form of the teased return of Captain Marvel, who is a mere ghost or apparition, preying on Phyla's fragile pysche. Included in this cheesy fake out was Genis-Vel and Annihilus, who isn't even dead after being reborn at the end of Annihilation. Where many (myself included) had hoped Genis might actually make a return to the Marvel Universe here, we were simply toyed with in a cheap one or two panel throw away scene.

Next up was the artwork from Wes Craig. While the characters look fine, he threw in several pages where the focus is zoomed way out, leaving non-descript blobs on the pages, which were then filled with a mountain of text boxes. If there were character actually drawn, then Craig simply threw them on a washed out background completely devoid of any details other than the occasional rock or hole in the ground or just a giant cloud of mysterious dust. I just feel ripped off when the artist can't take the time to draw a proper background.

Finally, the story, or lackthereof, consists of Drax and Phyla walking through this dreary limbo-like environment, meeting up with Maelstrom, having a small fight and then being escorted to the sleeping Moondragon, who's revealed to be possessed by the Dragon of the Moon entity. If you cut out the needless fight sequence and mountains of Wikipedia-like word balloons, this issue consists of maybe 2-3 pages of actual worthwhile story and we actually have to come back next month for the conclusion to it.

Verdict - Avoid It. Maybe Abnett and Lanning are stretched too thin with the War of Kings event and other books they write. It simply felt like they phoned in this story and stretched it out so they'd be able to focus on their other books for the next couple months. First Guardians of the Galaxy I've actually been disappointed with having purchased.

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Anonymous said...

Ooof! Not MORE inconsistent characterization in the Batman titles! Surely this mini is the one where consistency is most essential, seeing as what happens in it is meant to set up what happens in the Bat-verse for the next few years.

Seriously, I never know where anyone stands anymore. Am I supposed to like Damian or not? Has Tim gone emo or not? Why does Dick fluctuate between modest and self-absorbed? Does Barbara want out of the Bat family or not? And is Cassandra back in it or not?

Jason may be the most hateable character in it, but at least he's always a dick.

Sebastian said...

I agree with your review on Daniel's Batman. He certainly is a capable writer, and the overall feel of the book is pretty cool, especially the art but for longtime readers, I can see how this doesn't cut it. Still, it was pretty fun to read and I enjoyed the Knight and the Squire immensely. At first read, I thought the man in the end was the Third Man, Lane, from Morrison's run but costume similarities aside, it could be Todd. Can't wait to see who it is.
Also, thanks for the comments on my Silver Age books. The Flash book was a present from an ex and that growing stack sure does help my indie-cred. Keep up the good work.

nu said...

I enjoyed battle for the cowl and cant wait to see more jason todd

Andrenn said...

Not too surprised to hear Battle for the Cowl was just all right. If I hear good things I may consider checking out the collection. I'm more interested in the new Batman and Robin series. While I didn't think All Star Superman was all that great, this looks cool.

great reviews Kirk.

Klep said...

Quite frankly the Mar-vell 'appearance' in Guardians is exactly what I expected it would be after reading the solicit and the previews. I'm surprised you didn't expect the same. I'm disappointed to hear the book was bad this month, but since I only plan to pick it up in trades I expect the surrounding issues will pick up the slack. Hopefully this is just a one-off bad bit, and DnA haven't finally bitten off more than they can chew. At any rate, I'm glad they've found Heather more or less alive and hope that turns out alright. I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Rawnzilla said...

GotG was pretty lackluster this issue but I'm glad that there will be another issue shipping this month.

BIll said...

Yeah, thought the same thing about Battle for the Cowl. The Birds of Prey thing especially. Urgh. The thing that bugged me is that I think had I not been reading Nightwing, Robin, and BoP for the past year, I bet I'd have really liked this issue a lot.

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - Ahaha, never thought of it that way, but, ya, Jason actually is the only character that has been relatively consistent throughout the line.

@Sebastion - Knight and Squire were good, but lacked that British accent that Morrison seemed quite good at writing them with. Still enjoyed their inclusion.

As I said in the review, the last page image looks like the guy from the cover of issue three, which solicits listed as Jason Todd in the gun using Batman suit. Could be the third evil Batman from Morrison's run though.

@Klep - I wasn't honestly expecting a full blown return of Genis or Mar-Vell, but I at least expected a little more than the one or two panels they appeared in.

@Bill - Good point. I imagine if I hadn't been reading Nightwing or Robin or keeping up with what was going on in BoP, I'd probably have far fewer problems with the characterizations than I did.

Was also disappointed they made absolutely no mention of Dick as Batman back post-Knights End when he took up the mantle while Bruce went off rediscovering himself. Part of the Prodigal run and was quite good, to be honest. Even a one off about how he had been Batman before and maybe doubt over not being able to follow up or be Batman due to that experience or something to at least acknowledge it.

Sebastian said...

Oh! I just now saw that cover. Huh, it's probably Todd. Daniel doesn't seem to be that faithful to Morrison and anything R.I.P.-ish is probably off limits, anyway.

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